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Bone and Calcium Metabolism During Space FlightUnderstanding bone loss during space flight is one of the most critical challenges for maintaining astronaut health on space exploration missions. Flight and ground-based studies have been conducted to better understand the nature and mechanisms of weightlessness-induced bone loss, and to identify a means to counteract the loss. Maintenance of bone health requires a balance between bone formation and bone resorption. Early space research identified bone loss as a critical health issue, but could not provide a distinction between the bone formation and breakdown processes. The recent identification of collagen crosslinks as markers of bone resorption has made possible a clear understanding that a decrease in bone resorption is an important effect of space flight, with bone formation being unchanged or only slightly decreased. Calcium regulatory factors have also been studied, in an attempt to understand their role in bone loss. The lack of ultraviolet light exposure and insufficient dietary sources of vitamin D often lead to reduced vitamin D stores on long-duration flights. Serum parathyroid hormone (PTH) concentrations are decreased during flight compared to before flight, although small subject numbers often make this hard to document statistically. As expected, reduced PTH concentrations are accompanied by reduced 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D concentrations. Calcium kinetic studies during space flight confirm and extend the information gained from biochemical markers of bone metabolism. Calcium kinetic studies demonstrate that bone resorption is increased, bone formation is unchanged or decreased, and dietary calcium absorption is reduced during space flight. Evaluations have also been conducted of countermeasures, including dietary, exercise, and pharmacological treatments. In recent studies, many potential countermeasures show promise at mitigating bone loss in ground-based analogs of weightlessness (e.g., bed rest), but require further ground and flight testing to ensure that the beneficial effects are seen in space flight. As we begin to plan for missions to go back to the Moon, and even off to Mars, many questions are yet to be answered. Maintaining bone is one of the greatest challenges, but with a better understanding of the mechanical processes of bone loss, countermeasures can be designed more efficiently, and the solution (or solutions) may be just over the horizon.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Smith, Scott M.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Meeting Information
Vitamin D and Bone Health Conference(Houston, TX)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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